Report: Derby winner Country House will skip the Preakness

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Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness Stakes. Photo by Jay Cannon/Capital News Service.

Country House, the winner of last week’s controversial Kentucky Derby, will skip the Preakness Stakes and not make a bid for the Triple Crown due to illness, according to a report in the Daily Racing Form.

Trainer Bill Mott told the racing publication that Country House is coming down with a cold.

“He developed a little bit of a cough this morning,” Mott said in an interview. “H[is] appetite is good. He doesn’t have a fever. But he’s coughing. We drew blood. He’s acting like he’s going to get sick. He’s off the training list, and if he’s off the training list he’s off the Preakness list.”

Throughout the modern history of the Triple Crown, there are a handful of instances when the Derby winner skipped the Preakness, per this handy history from racing outlet Paulick Report. Grindstone, the 1996 winner, was found to have a bone chip in his right knee shortly after the Run for the Roses.

In 1985, the owner of Spend a Buck was lured by a $2 million bonus to run in the Jersey Derby at the then-newly rebuilt Garden State Park Racetrack. Three years before that, Gato Del Sol’s connections decided to focus ahead to the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel of the Triple Crown.

You have to go back to the 1950s for the next example. Tommy Lee, the 1959 champion, was reportedly “off his feed” and was instead pointed to later stakes races in California. Four years before that, the winner, Swaps, suffered a split hoof after the Derby. In 1954, the trainer of Determine said winning the Derby was satisfactory enough.

Before the Triple Crown was the horse racing prize we know it as today, there were two instances when the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes were held on the same day, and 11 times when the Preakness was run before the Derby.

Mott never seemed entirely thrilled with the idea of having to send Country House to Pimlico Race Course. He had said he was “elated” when he thought his horse came in second place, meaning there would be no pressure to go for the Triple Crown.

But the horse that crossed the finish line first, Maximum Security, was eventually disqualified, moving Country House to the winner circle.

In comments yesterday, Mott indicated he was warming up to the idea of running in the Preakness.

“We’re leaning toward the Preakness, since he is the Derby winner and we don’t want to pooh-pooh the Triple Crown,” Mott told the Maryland Jockey Club. “We want to support that. If he’s real good and continues to do well with no issues, not worn out, all those good things, we’ll keep pecking away and going in that direction.”

Mott also said he would be willing to scratch his horse from the field if he felt it was the right call.

“If there’s anything we don’t like as we get into the weekend or early next week, we won’t feel–I don’t feel–a lot of pressure to run him,” he said, “and talking to the ownership group, I don’t think they’ll put on a lot of pressure, if I’m not happy with him for some reason.”

The Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico and Laurel Park, put out a statement saying the company is still “extremely excited about the fields of horses” coming to town for the Preakness Stakes and Black-Eyed Susan Day.

“While the connections of Kentucky Derby winner Country House have chosen not to run in this year’s Preakness, the first time since 1996 a Derby winner has not competed in the Preakness, it doesn’t take away from the excitement and thrill of this legendary event,” Stronach said. “We anticipate an outstanding group of horses who will race in this year’s Preakness Stakes, and we anticipate there will be more interest from owners and trainers, who have until Wednesday, May 15 to make a final decision on whether to race.”

Brandon Weigel

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